Navy officials, hoping to overcome a wave of damaging revelations about its A-12 stealth attack plane, launched a public campaign Friday to rescue the $50 billion program.

Navy officials went public with arguments for continuing the development program, which is classified secret, just two weeks before Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's target date for deciding whether to cancel it.In a move that underscored the economic stakes involved, the companies holding a $4.8 billion contract to build the first A-12 prototypes - General Dynamics Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. - announced Thursday they were notifying about 8,000 workers that they could lose their jobs if the project is killed.

And on Friday, General Dynamics announced a shakeup of its A-12 management. It reassigned the A-12 program director, Charles Anderson. His replacement is Ted Webb, the former head of the successful F-16 fighter jet program, who retired last year.

The contractors were ordered by the Navy last week to correct the project's flaws by Jan. 2 or face the possibility of being held in default of the contract terms. The Navy cited a failure to supply parts on time for final assembly of the prototypes, and it questioned whether the A-12 design was suitable.